Sri Lanka eases 'anti-riot' curfew in Kandy


Colombo (AFP)

A daytime curfew was relaxed Thursday in the troubled Sri Lankan district of Kandy where three people were killed in anti-Muslim riots, but schools remained closed as beefed-up security forces patrolled the streets.

More than 200 homes, businesses and vehicles were set ablaze during three days of violence sparked by the death of a man from the mainly Buddhist Sinhalese majority at the hands of a Muslim mob last week.

The unrest began in the central district on Monday, and escalated the following day when a Muslim man was found dead in a burned building.

A 24-hour curfew was imposed on Wednesday afternoon after a hand grenade exploded in the hands of an attacker, killing him and wounding 11 others, officials said.

But following a calm night, authorities decided to ease the curfew six hours earlier than planned, police spokesman Ruwan Gunasekera said.

The Kandy region, 115 kilometres (72 miles) east of the capital Colombo, is popular with tourists as well as Buddhist pilgrims. Holidaymakers have been urged to avoid the hill resort but no foreigners have been reported involved in the unrest.

The government responded to the riots by ordering a nationwide state of emergency, giving security forces and police special powers to arrest and detain suspects.

Internet access was restricted in Kandy and social media websites blocked in a bid to prevent the spread of anti-Muslim hate speech.

President Maithripala Sirisena on Wednesday toured Kandy, where rioters had defied curfews and clashed with police who used tear gas to disperse them.

"I have ordered that the full force of the law be used against troublemakers," he said.

Military officials said more reinforcements were sent to the area on Wednesday night to assist police.

The United Nations has condemned the violence and urged Colombo "to ensure that appropriate measures are swiftly taken to restore normalcy in affected areas".

Sinhalese Buddhists are the majority ethnic group in Sri Lanka, making up 75 percent of its 21 million people. Muslims make up 10 percent of the population.

Parliament on Tuesday issued an apology to the Muslim minority for the latest violence targeting them in the Indian Ocean island.

Mobs also set fire to Muslim-owned businesses and attacked a mosque in the east of the country last week.

Last November riots in the south of the island left one man dead and homes and vehicles damaged. In June 2014 riots between Buddhists and Muslims left four dead.